Teasing out the threads

Using the Craft

Once the wall charts were completed, everything else; the underpinning story structure,the use of words, the creation of scenes, everything which brings interest and excitement and will elicit the sympathy of the reader is part and parcel of the craft of writing.

Secret Journeys

The charts displayed under the “Bare Bones” page were extremely simple but even at this early stage plot details are revealed. There was no attempt to “write” the complete story. Nevertheless the wall charts revealed the circumstances which enabled John to meet Ximene and their indicated their subsequent relationship.

Despite having been taught how to use wall charts to explore the plot and the logic underpinning the plot and to use charts to uncover any problems, I personally found it necessary to fill in additional detail with words.

I knew that during the exposition phase, the plot must allow for all the major characters to be introduced.

These subsequent notes are a summary of conversations, expanding the items on the charts. The text generated by these conversations generated another important development  of what the diagrams imply. It was a question and answer process and not all answers were instantly available!

The Prince’s Journey

The physical journey is that undertaken by the Black Prince.  That Journey is kept secret because the Prince places himself at considerable risk travelling through countryside nominally controlled by the Franks on his way to meet Ximene.

The declared purpose of the Black Prince’s journey is to negotiate a marriage contract with Ximene, heiress to the lands of Occitan. Possession of these lands could be the key to winning the war with the Franks, stabilising Aquitaine and reducing the national debt. The plan is that the Prince should meet Ximene during a Hunt at Muret organised by Ximene’s guardian , Gaston, Comte de Foix

The King also demands that the Prince should abandon all contact with Joan of Kent,  the Prince’s long time lover, with whom the King himself had a brief affair.

The Prince is by nature impetuous and believes that marriage to Ximene and ejecting the Franks from Occitan could give him great prestige and power. He is also supremely confident in his own abilities and believes any difficulties can be swept to one side.

The Prince’s call

The Prince’s call to adventure comes when his father King Edward III of England tells him that he must marry Ximene Trencavel  She insists that the marriage contract must be negotiated directly between the Prince and herself. She will have it no other way but the Prince must travel to Muret in the foothills of the Pyrenees to meet her.

The Need for Security

The Prince’s determination to keep the journey secret is partly for personal protection but also to hide his intentions. if his meeting with Ximene was to be unsuccessful no one should know about it. These requirements lead him to organise shipping from Bristol, even though he is in Plymouth where he is mobilising an army to be utilised later in the year. if he had left from Plymouth then many people would have known of his departure.

Amongst his close allies, the person best placed to organise the shipping is Lord James Audley who has a home at Tewksbury, a little further up the Severn River from Bristol.

John’s Journey

Thus John Stanley, one of James Audley’s Squires but known to the Prince because of his knowledge of deer hunting becomes involved in the Prince’s journey.  John has two quite separate journeys. His own physical journey is his progression through the lower ranks of the Prince’s army.

His second journey is totally inside his head. He tells no–one that he has fallen hopelessly in love with an ephemeral vision of the mystery woman the Prince is travelling to meet. It does not help that he learns the Pope has called her ” the most dangerous woman in the world. His journey becomes both complex,and threatening when he actually meets Ximene.

John’s first challenge is to overcome the bullying he experiences at the hands of Lord James’ other Squires.He has several mentors; Lord James, his instructor in martial arts, and the mate of the ship on which he made the voyage to Aquitaine. they all influence the outcome. The message from all of them is consistent. “We can advise you but you must take charge of your own destiny.”

John’s call

John’s call to adventure comes because whilst hunting on the Wirral Peninsula, royal territory managed by his father, he helps the Prince achieve a spectacular kill.  The Prince is so impressed that her instructs Lord James Audley to take John into service as a squire.

John’s Mentors

John is lucky having many mentors. Lord James, the Earl of Salisbury, Lady Eleanor and ultimately Joan of Kent all play a part in helping him progress and increasing his awareness of his own potential. Along the way he experiences peer group bullying, a shipwreck, intensive military training, an archery contest,and exposure to the workings of an evil man, Bertrand du Guesclin.

John gradually increases his skills and improves his position and status.

To Aquitaine

John’s journey continues but his ship is wrecked whilst trying to enter the bay of Arcachon. He survives and  subsequently receives  further training, specifically in how to attack fortified castles.

During this training he makes his first contact with the Cathar religion, learns  the true purpose of the Princes journey and fantazises about meeting Ximene. He acquires another mentor in William Montacute Earl of Salisbury, commander of the Prince’s rearguard. Through William, who had at one time been Joan of Kent’s husband,. John learns that Joan has followed them to Aquitaine and of her involvement with the Prince.

Joan of Kent and Du Guesclin

Joan is embarked on a journey of her own; to distract Ximene by introducing her to an impossibly handsome and virile man,  Thierry d’Arques, making it possible for her to marry the Prince herself. Joans journey is complicated by the journey of Bertrand du Guesclin. Bertrand is totally lacking in any normal sense of morality. In the past he had planned to kidnap and rape Joan and now their paths converge as he is given the task of eliminating Ximene before she can marry the Prince. He follows Joan knowing that she will lead him to the Prince and hence to Ximene.

John’s Progression

John becomes aware of Du Guesclin’s presence but cannot prevent a gruesome attack on one of the Earl’s family retainers.

John learns that the Earl is still involved with Joan by observing them during a festival at Clermont.  Internally  this incident causes John  to question his developing concepts of loyalty and chivalry.  At the end of the Festival, Joan asks the Earl to find her a champion for an archery competition and John is the only candidate.

Joan decides that John may be a more suitable candidate to distract Ximene than Thierry and asks the Earl to make sure that John meets Ximene.

John then prevents the attempted rape of a serving girl at a meeting with the citizens of Toulouse.  His action is considered to have prevented the breakdown of the talks. As a result he is appointed to the Prince’s personal bodyguard, making it certain he will meet Ximene.

Ximene’s Journey

Ximene has a journey of her own.  Virtually a prisoner in the Châteaux de Foix, she yearns for freedom so that she can fulfil what see believes is her destiny to free Occitan. As she begins to make specific plans to achieve this objective she finds all her beliefs and standards are challenged. She is not sure what freedom is and how it should be used. Initially John is just a useful tool placed at her disposal but slowly he becomes much more than that.

Ximene’s journey is quite different to John’s. however she is certainly not idle whilst waiting for the Hero to arrive. her journey mirrors the elements of Murdoch’s ” Heroine’s Journey” Much of it is an internal journey of self discovery. There are similarities with John’s Journey in that she becomes steadily more self reliant.

She initially decides to escape from her guardian’s,  control for no better reason than she wants freedom. she totally fails to define what freedom might be.

Initially Ximene, her grandmother Eleanor De Pedilla and Eleanor’s lover, Guilliam de Clermont all assume that nothing can be done without support. Ximene slowly discovers that her position as heiress to Occitan, her physical attractiveness and her growing confidence and determination give her the ability to influence her destiny. She hones her skills by interaction with the only people available; Her friend and cousin Alyse Perrers, The Compte de Foix, his wife Agnes of Navarre and the Captain of Guard assigned to keep watch on Ximene.

Ximene’s call

Ximene’s call to adventure comes from the prevarication of her grandmother Lady Eleanor, who for years has promised to help Ximene to escape the control of Gaston de Foix her guardian but in practice has done nothing. Eleanor has brought Ximene  up to believe that her destiny is to free occitan and create a haven for the Cathar faith but offers no advice on how this might be achieved.  Ximene decides she must take matters into her own hands.

Ximene’s Mentors

She leans about her beliefs and relationships by interaction with those around her. She is influenced by her Grandmother, Lady Eleanor and Eleanor’s lover, Guillam de Clermont Dessou. Ximene also interacts with her best friends Phillippa (Pipa) and Alyse but also with her guardian, Gaston de Foix and his wife Agnes of Navarre. She searches to reconcile her scripted destiny with her life expectations and finds great difficulty in doing so.

She moves forward towards the hunt at Muret nothing has been finalised in Ximene’s mind. She sees this as her best chance to escape to freedom, but at the same time is curious to discover what kind of a man the Black Prince really is and what he might bring to the negotiating table.

The new world

When Ximene and John finally meet , neither is certain what to offer or what to expect. They both know that they are important to each other but their preparations for the meeting are so different that they struggle to establish meaningful alignment. Instinctively Ximene feels that it is up to her to move the relationship forward and makes it clear to John that she is eminently approachable.

Alyse Perez

Alyse has a very strange relationship with Gaston. Gaston’s wife, Agnes devises a scheme to win back his affection. Agnes utilises the physical similarity between Ximene and Alyse as part of her scheme and then suggests how it could be used to advantage in the future to help Ximene achieve her objectives. Ximene rejects the idea itself but accepts that a second person looking and behaving exactly as she does herself could in many circumstances have its advantages. She and Alyse commence a programme of learning to make themselves indistinguishable from each other.

The Crisis

The Crisis is the preferred generic term for the central part of the story, although it is possible to have the main crisis very close to the end of the story. The resolution could theoretically be only one line. 

Ximene’s progression

Ximene settles on the Hunt at Muret as the opportunity to escape.

Ximene trains the guards to ignore temporary absences whilst hunting  but during these practice sessions learns that it is her, not Alyse who is the subject of Gastons attention. Hidden in the forest is an elaborate temple, built by Gaston and dedicated to Ximene. Now she is ready, total committed to break away.

Lady Eleanor’s Journey

Lady Eleanor  has been brought up to believe that Ximene could be the catalyst for the establishment of the an Occitan state and the re -establishment of the Cathar faith. Despite this she believes the stakes are too high. She gives no support and does everything she can to undermine these concepts.

She is supportive of a marriage to the Prince as she believes he could control the risks. She is terrified that Ximene’s thrust for total independence, rejecting the Prince could end in disaster.One of the factors which influences Eleanor to support Ximene’s desire for freedom is that Guillam Montcler has sought the help of Don Fernandino, a relative of  Lady Eleanors  and a member of the “Stars of the sea”, a Cathar secret society which specialises in helping Cathar’s escape from the inquisition.

The One

 Nevertheless Lady Eleanor desperately searches for someone  other than the Prince who would be able to both control and protect Ximene. At  the festival at Clermont Eleanor noticed Joan Of Kent’s enthusiastic support for her champion. Eleanor assumed that John must be another of Joan’s lovers and that he is therefore well connected. When she discovers that John has been promoted to be one of the Prince’s personal bodyguards,Lady Eleanor, who suffers from mystic insights decides that John is “The One”. Not just the one to fulfil Ximene’s needs but the one she has dreamed of all her own lifetime. This decision is based far more on emotion that a realistic appraisal of John’s potential.  She tests out Joan’s relationship with John and to her delight  Joan offers to to distract the Prince and allow Ximerne to escape.

The soul mates

She does everything she can to throw them together, to make John aware of the possiblities, but also to make sure he understands the responsibilities and risks a relationship with Ximene will bring. Interestingly despite her conviction that John is indeed “the one” Lady Eleanor puts little pressure directly on Ximene herself. She is confident that Ximene will discover for herself how important John is.
Ximene yeilds to the inevitability of marriage to the Black Prince but at the same time continues to groom John as a suitable partner. She decides that John is sexually inept, ignorant even and asks Lady Eleanot to put him through a condensed version of the Cathar Transition, sexual training with practical experience. She asks her friend Pipa to be John’s partner. Pipa readily accepts. John’s tutor for what are essentially lessons in how to give pleasure is Lady Eleanor. For John this is the biggest crisis he has every faced . He is now being asked to be a part of a  different world in which his emotions cannot cope with the challenges and his mind cannot comprehend the differences from the normal world .

Don Fernandino’s Journey

 Don Fernandino become’s involved at a time when he has lost faith in The Stars of the Sea. He mistrusts the council which controls the organisation. He believes that the organisation must have been infiltrated by agents of the Church of Rome. He has set up his own organisation and intends to use Ximene’s escape as the occasion for complete separation from the Stars. Unfortunately on the harbour front at Port Vendres he is kidnapped himself. Because he is acting alone there is no one to tell Ximene that something has gone wrong terribly wrong.

Ximene meets John

 The Black Prince becomes involved in a series of discussions with the lords of Occitan, actively seeking their support. He promises not to discriminate against the Cathar faith. Du Guesclin trails the Prince to one of his meetings and kidnaps and tortures one of the attendees. Knowing the Prince’s plan he decides to join forces with the inquisition to kidnap and execute Ximene.

 John is chosen by Salisbury to guard Ximene and her Grandmother whilst they are in the Prince’s camp. Aided and abetted by Lady Eleanor, Ximene gently seduces John.

The Failed Escape

 Lady Eleanor then decides to involve John in Ximene’s escape thus guaranteeing an extended contact between them.  She still assumes that Don Fernandino will arrive to control the escape. Ximene, now accompanied by John rides with the hunt every day, to avoid arousing suspicion. Du Guesclin strikes but John rescues Ximene. Because of this attack the hunt is abandoned but on the last night the Prince declares his betrothal to Ximene. John fears that having an emotional involvement with a future Queen of England could be treason. Again aided and abetted by her grandmother, despite the betrothal, Ximene encourages John to declare his suit.  She accepts. Inside John is in a turmoil. He is now convinced he is a traitor.

 Thierry d’Arques arrives unexpectedly. He brings news of Don Fernandino who he has rescued, but  reveals the fact that Don Fernandino is badly injured. John is jealous of Thierry’s good looks and Thierry’s assumption that Ximene will be attracted to him. No one trusts Thierry and when he leaves Guillam trails him in the hope of finding Don Fernandino and the truth about what happened at Port Vendres.


 Ximene is very disappointed in John’s lack of technique as a lover. She believes that John’s lack of sexual skill is a barrier. She also believes he is inhibited by her relationship with the Prince.  The Prince and his whole small army, including John, travel to Foix to finalise the marriage contract. Ximene arranges for John to be given a condensed version of the Cathar Transition, which is a practical education in sexual techniques. The training is supervised by her Lady Eleanor. Using her likeness to Alyse  to conceal her identity, Ximene takes part in the  training so she can experience first hand how John performs when some of the barriers are removed.

Later in the evening, when Gaston again proves possessive she asks the Prince to help her escape. She makes sure that it is still intended that John accompany her in the escape both to protect her and provide the conduit for further discussion. The Earl however senses the developing relationship between John and Ximene and threatens John with death if he is disloyal to the Prince.

The test

Against a backgound of John falling ever more deeply in love with Ximene, arrangements continue for Ximene’s eventual marriage to the Black Prince.  The Black Prince conceeds however that Ximene should be clear of the influence of her Guardian before the negotiations for the marriage contract are completed. John is asked to accompany Ximene to ensure her safety and to provide a conduit for finalising the negotiations. John fears that his growing love for Ximene is tantamount to treason. Joan of Kent instinctively identifies this difficulty and offers a suitable solution. She is of course acting with blatant self interest as she is determined to marry the Black Prince herself.

The successful escape

The book was always going to be concerned with the Prince’s journey and a search for John Stanley’s first wife. During a visit to Occitan (Languedoc) in 2005 which enabled a visit to all the places that accepted history says the Black Prince visited, Monsegur was a late addition to the itinery. It is a magnificent place. There is no record that The Black Prince ever went there but I decided immediately that a key scene in the book had to be at Monsegur and that it would be on the summer solstice!

Plans are made for the escape to proceed and at this point the two groups still shadowing the Prince’s progress intervene.

Joan convinces the Prince that the transfer of John’s loyalty to Ximene is the inevitable result of the position they have put him in, though she makes no mention of the growing emotional involvement she hopes is occurring.

Du Guesclin introduces an agent into the Château with specific orders to murder Ximene. The attempt is a little too late as Ximene escapes from the Château that very night.

The Final Journey

Guillam returns with the news that he has found Don Fernandino and taken him to a safe house to recover. It is agreed that Guillam will guide Ximene and John to the safe house from where the will travel with Don Fernandino to Sicily.

The Prince insists on travelling with them as far as Monsegur, a Cathar holy place, which is a convenient for a night’s rest. Du Guesclin and a significant force raised by the inquisition is still on their trail.

The Prince’s party arrive at Monsegur on the night before the summer solstice. On the morning of the solstice there is a spectacular light effect as the rising sun shines though an alignment of windows. Ximene chooses this moment to consummate her relationship with John.

The meaning of Freedom

They are interrupted by Du Guesclin’s advance. A pitched battle results delivering yet another defeat for du Guesclin. However in the confused circumstances at the end of the battle John vanishes. Ximene is waiting for him, away from the battlefield and when he does not join her she realises something is wrong.

Despite a demand from Guillam that they should leave, Ximene decides to use to make the first use of her new found freedom to risk her life to search for John and hopefully save his life.

Return to the normal world

The longer story is the ongoing relationship between Ximene their lives become “visibly and indivisibly entwined” as they help each other climb the social ladder opening doors for each other until they have the ears of Kings.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

Table Of Contents



List of Places

Table of Contents

Pseudo History